Krossfjorden, Spitsbergen Island

Jun 14, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer


Early this morning we entered Krossfjorden on the northwest side of Spitsbergen Island. The sky was gray, but the scenery was spectacular. The cliffs that surround the fjord had a sprinkling of fresh snow from last night and the air temperature was also relatively mild, an almost balmy 35°F! 

We entered a small tributary of the main fjord and anchored in a small fjord named Lilliehöökfjorden. In front of us was a tidewater glacier known as Lilliehöökbreen.  Off of the portside of the ship there were bird cliffs. Countless kittiwakes soared and chattered; their trim size and black wingtips making them easily identifiable. But they are not the only birds here in numbers. There are also eiders, common and king—the males have a bold black and white pattern and the females are dark.  They often sit on the water. In lesser numbers are Brunnich’s guillemot and the black guillemot, as well as the Arctic tern, the barnacle goose and everybody’s favorite, the Atlantic puffin. And where there are nesting aggregations there are also the predators.  Large glaucous gulls patrolled the cliffs as Arctic skuas harried kittiwake adults to make them drop their meal. 

Nonetheless, for me, what is great about bird cliffs is the plant life. There are many plants and lichens too that thrive on the over-fertilization.  There is even a technical term, onithocoprophilous (meaning bird poop loving).  The sheer cliffs are painted with lichens: reds, oranges, yellows, and blacks.  Lower down, on the steep, scree slopes there is a carpet of mosses and flowering plants. We call this place Stefan’s Garden named after one of our naturalists of yore.  As in much of Svalbard, where there is an abundance of plants there are reindeer. During much of the last century that was not true here, all the reindeer had been hunted out.  Then, in 1978, they were reintroduced on the nearby Brøggerhalvøya Peninsula. They have done well, even making some of the fruticose lichen species rare… I do not think the lichens missed them! 

After lunch the sun came out and we were doing some business: the group photo, the group panoramic, and the group video on the bow.  Once accomplished it was time for some scenic cruising, then out to sea to the drop off in search of marine wildlife.  So what happened?  I do not know… time to go to bed, tomorrow is almost here.

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About the Author

Dennis Cornejo

Naturalist

Dennis began scuba diving during the mid-1970s as part of a research project. At the time he was a research associate at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, studying the population of winter hibernating sea turtles.  What began as a scientific study soon became a conservation project that expanded to three species of sea turtles along the entire Pacific coast of Mexico.  This project received major funding from the World Wildlife Fund and was eventually taken over directly by that agency with Kim Clifton and Dennis Cornejo as co-principal investigators.

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